All the Blood We Share
reviewed by Pam Guynn
All the Blood We Share by Camilla Bruce is a historical fiction novel based on a real family of serial killers known at the Bloody Benders. While the names of the family aren’t consistent in the retellings, Bruce uses William Bender, father of John, his wife Elvira, and her daughter Kate.
William and John arrived in Labette County, Kansas near the small town of Cherryvale in 1871. Once their home and barn are built, Elvira and Kate arrive by train.
The newcomers are welcomed and use part of their home as a general store and inn for those passing along the nearby trail. Kate poses as a medium while she and Elvira also use potions to cure ills of the local inhabitants (for a price). However, the Benders are greedy and want a better life. People begin to disappear, and three of them are found dead. What has happened to the others that have disappeared? Are they dead or alive? Where are they?
The characterization of this novel is terrific. The actions, reactions, and descriptions gave me a clear picture of the Bender family members and several of the locals. William is calm, a planner, and always thinking of the future. However, he goes through a significant personality change during the course of the novel. Elvira seems erratic, greedy, bitter, and abusive to Kate. Kate is bold, shows no regret or sadness, and shows enjoyment in evil deeds. John works hard, but is jealous and angry. This mixed bag of traits made for an interesting and frightening mix in the novel.
The story alternates points of view between Kate, Elvira, and Hanson, a boy from the nearby trading station. This worked okay but occasionally disrupted the flow. Additionally, the writing was fluent at times and felt stilted and stylistic at other times. The world-building was so realistic and atmospheric, but it also made me shudder in horror at times. The novel brings strong, startling, and stressful images to life. The suspense involves who will live and who will die, as well as what will happen to the Benders. I didn’t expect several twists. The ending isn’t as definitive as I would have liked. Themes explored include family dynamics, relationships, greed, secrets, murder, anger, and jealousy.
Overall, this story is startling, violent, horrifying, thought provoking, and emotional, with great world-building and characterization. It was a hair-raising and chilling read. The author has a note section at the end that explains some of the many questions that remain about the Benders and where she has fictionalized the story.
Berkley Publishing Group and Camilla Bruce provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for November 22, 2022.
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